As published as a commentary by The Hartford Courant, October 28, 2007.

UConn Hospital Deserves a Hand

By Michael J. Hogan

In the six short weeks since I assumed the presidency of the University of Connecticut, I have spent a great deal of time meeting with faculty, staff and students. I have also been listening to and learning from many leaders outside of UConn.

Among the many opportunities and challenges before us, one issue in particular demands comment at this early stage. It is the state of the John Dempsey Hospital, the site at the UConn Health Center where research, education and clinical care most clearly intersect.

My experience at the University of Iowa, where I dealt with all of the health science schools and the academic hospital, tells me that financial stability is a long shot for a hospital as small as UConn's, with its special cost burden driven by its mission as the state's only public university hospital.

As a newcomer, my impression is that the hospital has succeeded against the odds. Just last week John Dempsey Hospital received a national quality award, a prestigious designation given to only 1 percent of the nation's hospitals. Earlier this year, the hospital was recognized as a Top 100 hospital, one of only 15 academic hospitals in the nation so honored, not just for quality of medical care, but for operational efficiency as well. Remarkable care, indeed.

But our university hospital continues to face some special challenges in the already challenging world of hospital finance. The hospital has seen no major renovation since the day it was built (at half the size originally planned). With only 108 medical-surgical beds, it is the nation's second smallest university hospital.

The hospital, as part of its public-service mission, provides a number of valuable medical services, including neonatal intensive care, inpatient psychiatry and dental clinics, that unfortunately are reimbursed at a fraction of actual cost.

These difficult dynamics contribute to the hospital's financial condition, as do overhead costs resulting from its status as a state entity.

As we close the first quarter of the fiscal year, the hospital is again running a deficit. The hospital's weak financial underpinnings are a clear threat to the quality of UConn's medical and dental schools, as well as the university's biomedical research enterprise.

We are very grateful for the immediate fiscal relief that the health center received from the General Assembly in the recent legislative session. Though the hospital still struggles financially, we will make every effort to achieve break-even status. Nevertheless, the continuing financial shortfall is evidence of what the university's leadership was saying during the session. There is a long-term problem at John Dempsey Hospital that demands a long-term solution.

The hospital's financial problems underscore the importance of the General Assembly's decision to get an independent assessment of the situation. That is being undertaken by the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering. The hospital simply cannot continue the successes of the past few years without a stable base.

We must move on a long-term solution, because today's financial losses will only worsen. As the new president, I am ready and willing to consider a host of options, provided they contribute to building the quality of UConn's Schools of Medicine and Dental Medicine. The strength of these schools, both in academics and research, is critical to the university's growing national stature and to Connecticut's economic development.

Equally compelling is our importance to the area's citizens, who count on us for care, and to the region's other hospitals, who depend on us for the interns and residents who staff their facilities. For this reason, I intend to meet with the heads of the region's hospitals to explore options that will work for all of us.

Together, and with help from the state's elected leaders, I am confident we can find a way to address the academic medical center's structural problems in a meaningful, long-term fashion.

Connecticut needs talented young doctors and dentists. Connecticut needs the health benefits and economic stimulus of biomedical research. And Connecticut deserves a great public university. We will rise to the ranks of the best only with a great center of medical teaching and research.

Michael J. Hogan is president of the University of Connecticut.